About Alan Brownjohn
Alan Brownjohn (b. 1931) grew up in London and was educated at Merton College, Oxford. He worked first as a schoolteacher and then a lecturer before becoming a full-time freelance writer in 1979. His writing life since then has demonstrated a long-lasting commitment to the promotion of poetry: he served on the Arts Council Literature Panel, was the Chairman of the Poetry Society from 1982-1988 and has collaborated in three teaching anthologies for secondary schools. His poetry has been recognised by a Cholmondeley Award and his novel The Way You Tell Them won the Authors' Club First Novel Award and has been followed by two further novels, The Long Shadows and A Funny Old Year. A third collected poems is published in 2006 by Enitharmon.
Brownjohn's public spiritedness (he was a Labour councillor and once stood for Parliament) comes through in his poetry which, like Larkin's, often investigates the contradictions between obligation and desire. Brownjohn himself acknowledges the moral purpose of his writing: "I write nothing without hoping it might make the world one grain better - a pompous statement which, I suppose, makes me a moralist as a writer, a humanist one." This is borne out by the subject matter of his poems which, for all their stylistic and thematic diversity, are principally interested in human social interaction. Narrative is often the chosen mode of investigation: some poems, 'An Orchard Path' or 'The Presentation' for instance, have the charged mystery of the best short stories. Brownjohn is an acute and sometimes satirical observer of "the minutiae of human behaviour" whether exposing the sinister banalities of modern life in 'Incident on a Holiday' or detailing the rituals of boredom and hierarchy amongst the department store staff in his sequence 'The Automatic Days'. Alongside this social realism is also a strong streak of the fantastic and surreal, often employed in the creation of dystopias as in his description of the overbearing Nanny in 'From his Childhood' whose ringing cry of "Courage!" is both amusing and unsettling.
A veteran of hundreds of readings, Brownjohn's relaxed voice is the perfect medium for the measured tone of his work. Dramatic without exaggeration, it's a voice that invites the reader's trust and then subverts the "courteous periphrases of English life" (Sean O'Brien) into something far more dark and disturbing.
His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 12 July 2002 at The Audio Workshop, London, UK and was produced by Liane Aukin.
Alan Brownjohn's Favourite Poetry Sayings:
"Poetry as 'a criticism of life' has always appealed to me, but it's usually forgotten that Matthew Arnold went on to add 'under the conditions fixed for such a criticism by the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty.' In other words, the poetry - which has to come out of a sense of the wonder of existence and the desire to give it meaning and permanence (and sometimes extra colour and oddity) - comes first." - Alan Brownjohn on Matthew Arnold
"Poetry is as exact a science as geometry" - Flaubert
"A poet I admire and enjoy deeply, John Crowe Ransom, said somewhere that writing poetry was somewhat like gardening, which is strange from someone whose poems don’t look in the least 'organic', but have a kind of painted or sculpted formality." - Alan Brownjohn on John Crowe Ransom